Expats call Vietnamese Tet distinctive family holiday

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Barbara Adam from Australia shops for Tet foods at Pham Van Hai market in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnamese Lunar New Year carries "interesting" community aspect, with hometown travels, house cleaning and visiting dead relatives, though giving money seems a bit odd, expatriates in Ho Chi Minh City told Thanh Nien.

"I love Tet. I think the traditions are fascinating and I love the way it's a family time," Barbara Adam, a former Bloomberg reporter who is running a street food tour in Ho Chi Minh City that has entered TripAdvisor's top ten of things to do in the city.

"I love how people decorate their houses. And I love how the whole family starts the new year together," said the Australian who met her current Vietnamese husband at her first Tet in 2008.

Annie Atizay, an American teacher who is in Vietnam the third time for the holiday, also said she "appreciates" Vietnamese community practices for Tet, which set it apart from American New Year.

"[Vietnamese Tet] is more interesting to me than the American New Year, as it is a little bit more about everybody, about family, and the American New Year is more about individuals."

Atizay said in America, people make New Year resolutions, which is personal and about oneself.

She also feels Tet's community spirit in people cleaning their houses, getting together, also singing karaoke in their houses, and visiting the dead.

"[Americans] propably only visit the dead on their death anniversary, or the person's birthday, but not on New Year occasions.

"I really appreciate the Vietnamese visiting their dead relatives at Tet. I think it's a cool thing to do, to include your dead friends and relatives in going to a new year, like they're still with us.

"I think it's an important tradition."

A well-preserved tradition is also something Tetsuya Osafune, a Japanese telecommunication businessman, feels about Tet in Vietnam as he is celebrating it for the second year.

"I'm really impressed seeing that Vietnamese people, no matter how late it is, still try to come back home for Tet."

Osafune said pressures from hosting an international working environment do not allow Japanese people to take long day break for the Lunar New Year, so they have switched to the calendar New Year, "although I personally think it's good to keep the Lunar New Year because it is tradition.

"It is culture and changing culture is not good."

The expats are also interested in the way each Tet is given a different name of an animal every 12 years, under the Chinese zodiac, and all the local ideas about bad luck and good luck associated with the animal.

This Lunar New Year is the year of Snake, and the last is the year of Dragon. "American New Year is the same every year, very boring," Atizay said.

She favors the sticky rice cake, known in Vietnamese as banh chung, among Tet foods, while Adam prefers candied coconut, though she said she loves every Tet foods.

"I also love the way that the traditional Tet foods are designed to give the women a break from cooking. Most women in Vietnam work so hard, they deserve a few days off," Adam said.

But the foreigners do not feel quite comfortable about the way of gift giving in Tet.

Atizay said American people hardly give out New Year gifts as it is for Christmas which is several days before.

For whatever occasions, people do not include bosses, like many Vietnamese people are doing, unless the two have a personal friendship, she said.

Adam on the other hand feels "odd" about the giving of lucky money, known in Vietnamese as li xi, saying a gift of money shows little thoughtfulness of the giver.

"You are supposed to show how much you care for someone and understand their likes and dislikes by choosing a gift they will love.

"Of course, if you get a gift of money, you can choose your own gift. But for me, it takes the caring out of the concept," she said.

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